By Bernadette Pattugalan

The author is now in Fourth Year high school at St Scholastica’s College, Manila.

We had our class outreach in Pandacan, Manila, a squatters’ area where the houses are beside the railroad. I really didn’t know what to expect when we were going there. When we got off the jeepney, children came and greeted us.

They brought us on a tour around the place. While we were touring, a train was coming our direction. I felt its rush and roar, just a feet away from me. I realized at that moment the danger it could bring. I also asked myself, ‘Of all places, why build a house beside a railroad?’

Our class was divided into groups and brought to different houses. My group went to a house that looked like a compound. The family occupied three rooms while letting two for rent. We talked to a two-year-old boy and his aunt. They offered us Coke. I was touched by this because despite their circumstances they still bought something to offer us. I was surprised when I saw the parents of the child: they looked very young. After a while the boy’s aunt told us that her sister gave birth at the age of 16. I pitied them for their situation. The mom of the two-year-old didn’t seem know what to do with him. The parents also seemed to have stopped studying.

In that short span of time, my perspective changed. Our trip there showed me that people live in very different situations in the world. Before our visit, whenever I’d see squatters, I’d always say, ‘Why won’t they look for a job? Why do they have so many children whom they can’t support?’ Pandacan showed me that they have different personal reasons that I need to respect.